After a race of visibility struggles for drivers, IndyCar officials will spend the next few days collecting information and gathering advice about improving aeroscreens for races held in the rain.
Many of the series drivers complained Saturday that they struggled to see other cars late in the IndyCar Grand Prix — even though each has flashing red lights. It was the most intense rainfall the series has competed in since 2018 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, two years prior to the installation of the shields designed to protect drivers’ heads from debris.
IndyCar president Jay Frye acknowledged Sunday previous testing indicated water retention on the screens would be more severe when running at slower speeds. But those tests were not held with 27 cars on the track as was the case on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course this weekend.
“When you got it up to speed, the water would just blow off, it would just go away. Now with a group of cars, there are different things involved,” Frye told The Associated Press. “We need to find out where we’re at, who had the biggest issue and come up with best practices.”
One possible solution — making better use of the tear-offs that cover the clear screens.
Race winner Colton Herta said he also struggled with visibility — until his team pulled a used tear-off screen. Frye said he spoke with an unidentified driver whose team never removed it.
Whether that may have made a difference Saturday remains unclear. But it didn’t change the results.
After finishing a season-best fifth, Conor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing told reporters he finished the race by peaking around the side of the cockpit because water was pooling in the center of the shield. He wasn’t the only competitor struggling.
The changing weather conditions and a track that was dry in some parts and wet in others, created other obstacles. And when heavy rain covered the front stretch with less than five laps to go, Daly said he relied on his spotter, instincts and muscle memory to navigate braking zones and traffic.
“It was definitely hard to race like that,” he said. “Even under yellow, I couldn’t see the cars, so that’s very concerning. Hopefully, we can figure it out. Hopefully, we can keep it shiny the rest of the year, too.”
Complaints about the aeroscreens are hardly new. When initially introduced, drivers complained about a range of issues including sightlines, cockpit temperatures and warm drinking bottles. Series officials found solutions, some with relatively simple adjustments such as moving the placement of drinking bottles.
Indy GP runner-up Simon Pagenaud offered one idea — adding a windshield wiper like sports cars.
“It was very difficult to see without the wiper. That was the first wet race with the aeroscreen, but in these conditions you really need the wiper,” the three-time race winner from France said. “It’s possible and probably necessary to have a wiper in these conditions.”
Frye said the series would consider Pagenaud’s suggestion, but the curve of the aeroscreen could present a challenge.
Regardless, the historic speedway could now be harkening back to its traditional roots as a test track where everything from seat belts to rearview mirrors to the SAFER barrier were introduced.
Rain is commonplace in May and has caused many Indianapolis 500 practices and qualifying rounds to be delayed or canceled. In 1915, 1986 and 1997, bad weather forced postponements of the marquee race. In 1967 and 1973, it took multiple days to complete and seven 500s ended prematurely because of rain, most recently in 2007 when Dario Franchitti won for the first time.
But because IndyCars don’t compete on wet ovals, the rooster tails created by the spray of the cars was a surprising sight for the estimated 65,000 fans and caused real consternation for some of the series’ most hardened drivers.
“The biggest problem for me was the spray from the other cars,” pole-winner and third-place finisher Will Power said. “There’s really nothing you can do with the wheels of the cars. We were really right on the edge of whether we should be running there at the end.”
Series officials monitored radio calls and team messages about visibility throughout the race, especially when the heavier rains began, Frye said, but that nobody thought the conditions were “unmanageable.”
The series also is trying to find out if visibility could have played a role in the late crash between rookies Christian Lundgaard and Callum Ilott. Either way, it wasn’t easy for anyone.
“I’m glad to say I’ve raced in the rain now although that was a frightening experience, especially there for the last however many laps,” seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said on Twitter. “I hope I don’t need to do that again anytime soon.”
Next on the Indycar schedule is the big one, the Indianapolis 500 with practice starting on Tuesday where, when it rains, they simply don’t go out on track until it’s dry. Ovals and wet do not mix. (Report by Michael Marot)